ANGAMALY: With Sania Mirza peeping out from newspapers almost every day, women’s tennis in the country may appear young and vibrant but there’s a seasoned lady dominating the domestic circuit.
At 30, an age when many young women are busy balancing their professional careers and home affairs, Rushmi Chakravarthi hasn’t lost her focus on court.
Living just a stone’s throw away from Vijay Amritraj’s house on Chennai’s Sterling Road, Rushmi was probably not short of inspiration when she took up the game nearly two decades ago.
“But I played tennis just for the fun of it,” says Rushmi, whose mother hails from Aluva, a few miles away from the tournament venue here.
A serious affair
Fun soon became a serious affair when the young girl began winning National titles, first at the under-14 level and later, twice in the under-16 age group. Being coached by Ilyas Hussain, once a wily player on the men’s circuit, Rushmi sharpened her game further and went on to win five senior National titles.
Rushmi is now on her own. “After so many years, you pretty much have to fend for yourself,” says the player who now has a World ranking of 514. Her career-best ranking, which came in mid-September 2004, was 310.
Rushmi is a fine link between the sport’s past and the present promising scene after the arrival of Sania. “Surely, things are a lot better now for youngsters,” says the Deputy Manager, Administration, with the Indian Oil Corporation.
So, why aren’t we getting more Sanias? When will the next one show up? “Of course, there is talent,” says Rushmi.
Strangely the money in the domestic circuit has not kept pace with the sport’s popularity or rise. “Two years ago, when I won the grass court National in Kolkata, the prize-money was Rs. 80,000 but when I last won the same championship in New Delhi last December, it was just Rs. 20,000,” says Rushmi.
“In fact, I stopped playing the National championships for three years after 2002 because I didn’t get anything from them.”
Life on the circuit is very expensive. “You have to pay for your accommodation food and travel. It’s okay if you’re winning consistently, you may break even or probably make some money, but for the others it’s very, very tough. And with the dollar going down, the prize-money in the ITF circuit is going down too,” says Rushmi. So what keeps Rushmi going? “Just the love of the game.”